Louisiana owes the wrongfully imprisoned more than freedom By Ernie Miles Guest columnist You may have seen or heard about Michael Williams. He is a native of Jonesboro who was freed from Angola State Prison in March 2005 after conclusive DNA evidence proved that he did not rape a 22 year-old woman in the late 1970s.
Williams, now 40 years old, spent 24 years of his life in Angola, where he was locked, punished and sexually violated. Williams was freed by work of the Innocence Project, a legal action program that tries to help free prisoners who may have been wrongfully convicted.
Williams, after seeing the O.J. Simpson trial on television and learning about DNA, got in touch with the Innocence Project and they worked to affect his release. DNA was not used in cases when Williams was convicted and, thanks to an elderly court clerk in Chatham, the DNA evidence, after all of this time, was preserved. Williams is not the first African-American to be caught up in this situation.
Two years ago, a Shreveport man, 45-year-old Calvin Willis, was released from Angola after 24 years, when DNA evidence proved that he could not have raped the 10-year-old girl for which he was convicted. Williams walked out of Angola State Prison with a check for $10 – a big insult. Louisiana owes these men and women who were wrongfully incarcerated. State Rep. Cedric Glover introduced a bill to gain reparations for people like Willis and Williams, but the bill did not pass and was watered down so that the state’s liability would be about $14,000 a year, just barely above the national minimum wage. Glover will introduce the bill again this spring. In cases like these, the persons released usually have no immediate means of making a living. They are lost, defeated, and disillusioned. And the biggest crime of all may be what the state does not do for them. Louisiana, like some other states in the union, needs to adjust its attitude.
Ernie Miles, former GSU employee, is the host of The Ernie Miles Gospel Show on KNOE-TV.